February 21, 2013; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Ben Zobrist (18) poses for a picture during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rays Notes: Pitching Prospects Highlight Friday Lineup, Ben Zobrist Off to World Baseball Classic

The Toronto Blue Jays have not been a major factor in the AL East the past several seasons. This season, though, that’s about to change after the Blue Jays had a huge offseason, acquiring R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera, and Mark Buehrle among others as they saw an opportunity with no team the clear favorite in the AL East and decided to go all in. On Friday, the Rays will take the field against them for the first time, albeit in an exhibition, and although spring training is still happening for another month, hopefully we can get a small taste of the competitiveness the season series between the Rays and Jays will undoubtedly be defined by. Here’s the Rays’ lineup against Buehrle.

Desmond Jennings, CF
Sean Rodriguez, 2B
Matthew Joyce, LF
Shelley Duncan, 1B
Jack Cust, DH
Jose Molina, C
Chris Gimenez,  3B
Brandon Guyer, RF
Tim Beckham, SS
—–
Jake Odorizzi, SP

The Rays aren’t exactly sending their A-lineup out against Toronto, with a couple key reasons being that it’s a two-hour journey from Port Charlotte to Dunedin where the Jays’ spring home is and also that the Rays don’t want to give the Blue Jays’ too much information about the group of players they’ll send out for the regular season. But there are still several players to note in this game starting with Jennings at the top of the lineup and an impressive group of pitching prospects: Odorizzi, Chris Archer, Alex Colome, and Mike Montgomery. This game also marks Brandon Guyer’s first start in a game since undergoing shoulder surgery last May, and it tells you how highly the Rays regard his defense that they’re pushing Joyce to left in favor of him. Should be a fun game and you can listen on MLB.com’s Gameday Audio at 1:05.

An exciting development is happening this weekend as Ben Zobrist leaves the Rays’ camp to join Team USA’s team for the World Baseball Classic. The WBC has not generated the type of enthusiasm Major League Baseball would have hoped for, with many major leaguers opting out using all sorts of excuses, but Zobrist is ecstatic to represent his country.

“I would have begged to do it if I had to; thankfully they didn’t make me do that. I just had to apply and told them how much I wanted to do it,” Zobrist said Thursday. “It’s really a dream to be able to put on a Team USA jersey and be able to represent your country, especially a country like ours.”

Zobrist will play a utility role for team USA, but not something he minds at all given that he’s made his name for the Rays as a super-utility player starting almost every game but playing all over the field. While Zobrist would have loved to be entrenched at one position, the thing that matters most to him is helping the team win, and his versatility helps him do just that.

“As a whole, that’s what we’re trying to do here,” Zobrist said. “If we win and I’m a big part of that by moving around the field and whatnot, that’s going to be good for everybody. … If we win the game, then it doesn’t matter where everybody plays and what slot in the lineup they were.

“At the end of the day what we care about is the W and getting to the playoffs and winning the World Series. That’s the main goal. I can put away my desire to play one position for the fact that it’s the best thing for the team.”

You know that Zobrist will come up huge, but that will be only a warmup from what he has the ability to do for the Rays this season. Best of luck to Zobrist and Team USA.

Tags: Ben Zobrist Brandon Guyer Jake Odorizzi Tampa Bay Rays

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